Fares short­fall as pas­sen­gers shun £41m train sta­tion

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Picken apicken@sun­day­post.com

A new £ 41m rail­way sta­tion has been branded a huge waste of money as pas­sen­gers stay away.

Ex­perts ques­tioned the need and cost of the train sta­tion yes­ter­day as fig­ures re­veal only half the fore­cast num­ber of trav­ellers may ever use it.

Pub­licly- funded Ed­in­burgh Gate­way opened on the out­skirts of the city in December but plat­forms are of­ten empty af­ter plans to link it with com­muter lines were ditched.

Rail bosses once pre­dicted up to 600,000 pas­sen­gers a year would use the sta­tion next to the de­pot for the city’s tram line.

A former trans­port min­is­ter yes­ter­day said: “We have been left with a white ele­phant.”

A NEW £41m rail­way sta­tion has been branded a “white ele­phant” less than a year af­ter it opened – as fig­ures show it was used by barely a third of the ex­pected num­ber of pas­sen­gers.

Tax­payer- funded Ed­in­burgh Gate­way opened on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal last December but is of­ten de­serted be­cause it does not con­nect to the busi­est rail ser­vices.

And it has now emerged that con­struc­tion costs for the sta­tion were orig­i­nally es­ti­mated at £24m but soared to £ 41m by the time it was com­pleted.

Trans­por t chiefs said they ex­pected 500,000 to 600,000 pas­sen­gers a year to use the sta­tion, which lies next to the de­pot for the city’s con­tro­ver­sial £1 bil­lion tram line.

But fig­ures ob­tained by The Sun­day Post show just 134,655 peo­ple have used it in its first eight months – putting it on course to fall dra­mat­i­cally short of its tar­get.

The pas­sen­ger short­fall is be­ing blamed on the de­ci­sion to drop plans to con­nect the sta­tion to the busy Glas­gow-Ed­in­burgh line.

The site was cho­sen be­cause it is next to the tram line and would have given SNP min­sters a cheap way to cre­ate an air­port rail link.

Last night former trans­port min­is­ter and Lib Dem MSP Tav­ish Scott blasted the Scot­tish Govern­ment’s trans­port plan­ning and the £ 41m cost of the sta­tion.

He said: “This is a com­plete fail­ure of joined-up think­ing from the Scot­tish Govern­ment.

“They pulled the plug on the cap­i­tal city of Scot­land hav­ing a ded­i­cated air­port rail link that the whole coun­try could have used and left us with a white ele­phant.

“Thou­sands of Scots from ev­ery point on the com­pass could have used a proper air­port sta­tion but in­stead we now have a vastly over­bud­get sta­tion with poor con­nec­tions which no­body uses.

“And this at a time when the SNP is en­cour­ag­ing more and more use of air travel.”

Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive trans­port spokesman Jamie Greene added: “This ap­pears to be an­other ab­ject fail­ing of Scot­tish Govern­ment plan­ning. It has over­es­ti­mated a pro­ject which is now be­ing un­der­used, and the Scot­tish tax­payer has to foot the bill.”

Plans for the Ed­in­burgh Gate­way sta­tion were first an­nounced by the then Trans­port Min­is­ter Ste­wart Steven­son in 2007 but the fi­nal busi­ness case was signed off by his suc­ces­sor Keith Brown, who is now the cab­i­net sec­re­tary for the econ­omy.

The tax­payer also pays for the staff who work at Ed­in­burgh Gate­way in­stead of fran­chise holder Abel­lio be­cause run­ning the new sta­tion – first mooted in 2007 – was not in the 2014 fran­chise agreement.

In Oc­to­ber last year, two months prior to Ed­in­burgh Gate­way open­ing, The Sun­day Post asked Trans­port Scot­land if they still ex­pected 500,000 to 600,000 pas­sen­gers a year to use the sta­tion.

A spokes­woman con­firmed that they did and said the fig­ures were de­rived from mod­el­ling car­ried out in 2013, af­ter plans to build a sec­tion of ex­tra track to al­low Glas­gow trains to stop at Ed­in­burgh Gate­way was axed.

But fig­ures re­leased un­der free­dom of in­for­ma­tion laws show that be­tween December 11 last year and July 22, a to­tal of 134,655 pas­sen­gers had used the sta­tion.

This works out as an av­er­age of 4,207 pas­sen­gers a week, which if ex­trap­o­lated over 12 months comes to 218,814, which is just over a third of the pro­jected an­nual to­tal.

John Car­son, a civil en­gi­neer and former di­rec­tor of main­te­nance at Net­work Rail, said: “Pre­dic­tions of 500,000 or 600,000 pas­sen­gers per year do not com­pare well with the

re­al­ity but that should not come as a sur­prise to those who knew they were hyped in the first place.”

The Ed­in­burgh Gate­way in­ter­change of­fers trav­ellers’ ser­vices to Fife, Perth, Dundee and In­ver­ness.

The sta­tion was also built to link in to Ed­in­burgh’s tram line which then takes pas­sen­gers the short dis­tance to the city’s air­port.

Latest fig­ures from the Of­fice of Rail and Road, the in­de­pen­dent rail

reg­u­la­tor, show that fran­chise op­er­a­tors across the UK, on av­er­age, made £ 5.46 in fare rev­enue per jour­ney in 2016/17.

The amount is be­fore any pub­lic sub­sidy and a break­down per rail fran­chise is not avail­able for com­mer­cial rea­sons.

If this av­er­age fare rev­enue was ap­plied to the pro­jected 381,186 “miss­ing” pas­sen­gers for the first year of the Ed­in­burgh Gate­way sta­tion then this would equate to £ 2,081,000 a year in lost ticket money.

Trans­port Scot­land said the in­crease in build­ing costs from £ 24m in 2014 to £ 41m “re­lates to tram in­fra­struc­ture works, the costs of which fell to the pro­ject”.

A Trans­port Scot­land spokes­woman said: “Air­port de­mand is quite sea­sonal, so this pic­ture of the sta­tion’s use can­not be re­garded as be­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

“A full year’s worth of data is re­quired be­fore a view can be come to with re­spect to mar­ket de­mand for the sta­tion.”

The trans­port body re­fused to say how many staff are em­ployed at Ed­in­burgh Gate­way but did ad­mit they are pick­ing up the bill as the new sta­tion sparked a vari­a­tion of the ScotRail fran­chise agreement with Abel­lio.

Mean­while, plans to run the first elec­tric trains on the flag­ship Ed­in­burgh to Glas­gow line have been hit by a fourth de­lay, trans­port chiefs have ad­mit­ted.

The first ser­vices were orig­i­nally ex­pected in 2016.

This was later put back to July 2017 and an­other de­lay, this time to Oc­to­ber 2, was an­nounced in June.

Af­ter Trans­port Scot­land changed the word­ing of the start to its elec­tric ser­vice to “later this year” The Sun­day Post asked if the Oc­to­ber 2 date had slipped.

ScotRail then ad­mit­ted it will be the end of Oc­to­ber be­fore the first elec­tric train is due to run on Scot­land’s busi­est rail­way line, with a full elec­tric ser­vice due by December.

This is a com­plete fail­ure of joined-up think­ing.

■ Empty plat­forms at show­case sta­tion.

■ Left, the empty plat­forms at the sta­tion con­trast with the crowds at Hay­mar­ket, right.

■ The four sta­tions in Ed­in­burgh.

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